The Covid-19 Riots: Why Are They Happening In Europe?
Just a few months ago, cases of Covid-19 in Europe fell to some of the lowest levels since the start of the pandemic.
But this week saw a series of riots in cities across the old continent, as protests against the handling of the pandemic saw cars set on fire and riot police deployed against protesters.
What Is Happening In Europe?
Over the weekend, violent protests took place in the streets of several countries.
In the Netherlands, demonstrators clashed with police, throwing stones, throwing fireworks and setting vehicles on fire.
Authorities responded by using batons, dogs, horses, water cannons and even shooting.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the repeated nights of unrest “sheer violence”.
In Belgium, large protest marches turned violent: police vehicles were ransacked and demonstrators were greeted with tear gas and water cannons.
On Saturday, 40,000 people marched through the streets of Austria’s capital, Vienna, in a largely peaceful protest organized by the far-right Freedom Party.
Demonstrations also took place in Italy, Denmark and Croatia.
Why Are People Angry?
The Netherlands imposed a three-week partial lockdown after seeing a record spike in Covid cases. Bars and restaurants are due to close earlier, and crowds have been banned from sporting events.
Rules for face masks have been tightened in Belgium, including in places such as restaurants, where Covid passes are already required, and most people will need to work from home four days a week until mid -December.
Similar measures have been or are about to be introduced in other countries in the region, such as Germany, Greece, and the Czech Republic.
However, it is in Austria that the measures are the most stringent.
In addition to a full nationwide lockdown – which forces people to stay at home except for essential reasons – Austria has become the first European country to make Covid vaccination a legal obligation, with the law due to come into force in February.
Despite strong opposition, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said the measures were necessary due to opposition to vaccination.
“Whipped up by radical anti-vaxxers, by fake news, too many of us haven’t been vaccinated,” he said.
“The result is overloaded intensive care units and enormous suffering.
Why Are These Restrictions Occurring Now?
These new rules follow a dramatic increase in Covid cases in the region.
Despite a high percentage of the population fully vaccinated compared to many parts of the world, Europe has seen the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus skyrocket in recent weeks.
In Germany and the Netherlands, the number of weekly cases has quadrupled since last month and in Austria it is five times higher.
The World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, told the BBC that 500,000 more deaths could be recorded by March if urgent action is not taken and it s is said to be “very worried”.
He supports most of the measures put in place by European countries but said compulsory vaccination measures, such as those planned in Austria, should be seen as a “last resort”. He wants a “legal and societal debate” to take place on this issue.
Dr. Kluge has advocated for the wearing of a mask and supported the Covid pass rules, which require people going to restaurants, gyms, and other similar places to be able to prove that they have been vaccinated.
Why Have The Cases Increased So Sharply?
It seems to be a combination of reasons in different countries.
Dr Kluge said factors such as the winter season, insufficient vaccine coverage, and the regional predominance of the more transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19 were behind the spread.
Many European countries relaxed Covid-related restrictions, such as social distancing and mask-wearing rules, earlier this year, as the number of cases declined and vaccination levels rose.
But even among those vaccinated, the Delta variant has been shown to still be able to spread rapidly when people return to situations where they are in close contact with each other with fewer restrictions in place.
Is The Number Of Deaths From Covid-19 Increasing As Quickly?
There seems to be some good news, at least.
Vaccines seem to prevent people from getting seriously ill and dying.
At the start of the pandemic, the spikes in cases were accompanied by a rapid increase in the number of deaths, but since the introduction of the vaccine, the number of deaths has fallen far below the number of people infected.